The only way for people to learn is through feedback. Like-minded people support each other’s beliefs—they don’t challenge them. It’s not until you put your thoughts out to a broader audience that you learn the flaws in your thinking.
So what about Tyler Clary and Michael Phelps?
It’s no secret Phelps lost motivation after his miraculous eight golds in Beijing. It was his third Olympics already at the age of 23 (his first was when he was 15, although he didn’t medal).
No regrets, though. That’s what he said after these Games.
When Bob Costas interviewed him for NBC, they talked about these Olympics and the preparation (or lack thereof) by Phelps.
Phelps admitted he took time off, didn’t prepare as hard as he did for Beijing, which maybe accounted for his slow start. He actually talked about having “fun” this time around.
I was super tight. I just kept trying to be intense.
Which he then realized he was doing.
And I guess after that, I just started relaxing more. I started smiling more. But everything started falling into place. You know, I didn’t feel that great in the water. But I just went out and raced as hard as I could and started smiling and enjoying it.
These aren’t the words of a guy overly concerned about his results. And I don’t in any way mean that in a bad way. A good way, actually. Here’s an athlete who has achieved all his career goals and is going out enjoying himself along the way.
Oh, he admitted it was frustrating that South Africa’s Chad le Clos out-touched him in the 200m butterfly, especially after leading towards the end and just having a bad finish (on top of a bad turn). But listen to what he said after that:
He got his hand on the wall first. The most prepared person wins. And he was more prepared than me. It’s frustrating, sure. But, you know, that’s what I prepared myself to do. You know, I prepared myself to go 1:53:00 and that’s all I had in the tank.
Phelps owned it.
From a subsequent interview with ESPN’s George Smith—
Smith: You’ve spent a lot of years, obviously, committed to doing this. What do you think you’ve missed?
Phelps: Nothing. I’ve had the opportunity to do everything I’ve wanted to do.
Like I said, completely satisfied.
Clary said he was speaking from observation, that he’d seen Phelps slacking during training—like “a swimmer that didn’t want to be there,” according to Press-Enterprise.
Fair enough. Phelps admitted to skiving off weight training and debating quitting altogether after Beijing. He even admitted to less preparation for London, saying something to Costas like he got the exact results he deserved (i.e., four golds, two silvers in seven events, as opposed to seven golds, which he evidently wasn’t going for).
But why Clary’s comments? Why say anything at all?
Clary was right, of course, but he wasn’t very thoughtful about it. Did he ever ask himself (a self-confessed hard worker) how motivated he’d be after winning eight gold medals in one Olympics, for a total of 16 medals in three Olympics? (Clary hadn’t won any Olympic medals at all at the time of his comments.)
No matter how talented an athlete is, they can’t win 16 Olympic medals (the number Phelps had going into London) without work. And work. And work. And work. It’s one of the secrets of world-class athletes—it’s not all talent; they work, man.
Clary, too. Which might have spawned the comments—especially after Phelps beat Clary during the U.S. trials in the 400 individual medley, taking Clary’s spot for that event (Clary’s best event, according to CBS Sports). Maybe it was jealousy. Who knows.
The point is, Clary should have kept his comments to himself. Was Phelps lazy after Beijing? Yes. Had he just completed a life goal? Yes. Was he already contemplating retirement? Yes. Was Clary there to see all Phelps’ hard work in the years up to Beijing? No. (Only Phelps and coach Bob Bowman were there.)
In the end, Clary of course apologized to Phelps, but he’d already made himself something of a pariah in the media.
He didn’t think before he expressed himself.
And neither did Papachristou. Or Morganella. Although I’m guessing they may in the future. Clary, too.